Internship. Student Research Assistantship. These words once conjured images of time spent drudging away in corporate office air conditioning or musty back rooms of a university department. Time spent filing papers, making and slugging coffee, or solving the mystery of the broken copy machine (again!).
Times have changed, though, and for many students, the experience of working in the “real world” translates into some of the best learning that college can offer.
Consider a recent Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates that indicates students who take part in internships or other college experiences requiring them to apply classroom knowledge double their odds of being happily engaged employees once they begin their career.
At RENCI, students work in a variety of fields – from project management to communications to research studies in multiple scientific fields. While each student experience at RENCI is different, most agree that spending time at RENCI offers the opportunity to hone skillsets and contribute to a team. Following are a few of their stories.
Working at RENCI as a student offers a particular draw to those interested in the field of high performance computing. Diptorup Deb, UNC-CH computer science graduate student, realized that RENCI offered the only local opportunity to work in HPC and parallel computing.
Deb believes the real-world experience has been worthwhile. “I have been collaborating with nuclear physicists at the Jefferson Accelerator Lab in Virginia,” he said. “Meeting with these domain scientists are the types of opportunities I wouldn’t have had without being here.”
For Annie Goessling, who assists with project management for the National Consortium for Data Science, an internship at RENCI means the chance to sharpen more than her math skills.
“RENCI has really taught me the importance of organization and communication,” said Goessling, a UNC-Chapel Hill mathematical decision science major now in her senior year.
She also had the opportunity to attend the 2015 Data Matters summer short course series, an event she played a major part in coordinating.
Sometimes, student work experiences grant the chance to work on projects that seemed inconceivable when learning the skills in the classroom. Fan Jiang, a graduate student in the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Information and Library Science (SILS), has worked on a National Science Foundation-funded project for the last year.
“I mainly helped with the implementation of the workflow virtual appliance [for ADAMANT]. This work was demonstrated at Supercomputing (the international high performance computing conference) last year and also resulted in a research paper,” said Jiang.
Huiying Ma is a SILS student working in the Informatics division on natural language processing and text mining. She enjoys the opportunity to see her classroom learning translated into the real world.
“Getting involved at RENCI is very different from what you can learn from school,” said Ma. “You can see how people collaborate and how everyone works to create their part.”
Rick Skarbez, UNC-CH computer science graduate student, says students at RENCI are given as much opportunity and involvement as non-student employees.
“Being a student assistant at RENCI, you’re part of the team,” he said. “Very quickly when I arrived here, I was given responsibility and I was given a voice.”
For many students, an internship brings into focus the specialties within a field of study they are most suited to pursue after graduation. Jessica Smith is a UNC-Chapel Hill marine sciences graduate student working on coastal hazards research with Brian Blanton, director of environmental initiatives at RENCI.
According to Smith, working at RENCI has increased her knowledge of and interest in a sub-field of marine sciences. “From the work I’ve completed here, and the work that will be my master’s project, I think that I want to work in the coastal hazards modeling field after I graduate,” she said.
Yiqi Wang, another SILS student, also works on the informatics team. Her RENCI internship experience has taught her that being part of a team means speaking up with your opinions, not just doing what you are told.
“Every time I meet with Charles, my manager, he always asks me, ‘what do you think about what we should do next?’ That makes me feel like I’m really a member of the team and it also makes me more active in the initial stages about what I’m doing,” said Wang.